Microsoft Research Packs Wallop

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2003-10-30

Microsoft Research Packs Wallop

LOS ANGELES—Microsoft Corp. themed this weeks Professional Developers Conference along the lines of the companys advancements in presentation, storage and communications, and Wednesday Microsoft showed how its research arm is enhancing these areas and more.

In a keynote address here, Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, spoke on the issue, as well as touching on the question, "Are we done yet?" Rashid gave examples of several areas in which Microsofts research dollars are going to further the companys products.

In the area of communications, Rashid called upon Lili Cheng, a senior researcher at Microsoft, to demonstrate how the software giant is working on social computing, social interaction and how communication can work in the future.

Cheng demonstrated a research project called Wallop that includes Web logging capabilities, document and image sharing, and other interactive features. Cheng said parts of Wallop will find its way into the Longhorn operating system. The software will automatically associate people, groups and data in Longhorn.

Check out eWEEK Labs First Look at Longhorn.

On the presentation front, Rashid said Microsoft is advancing the state of the art and making it so that the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) can be used to do more general-purpose computations for things like simulations, user interface work, font rendering, and display management and manipulation. Some examples include geometry amplification on the GPU and pre-computed radiance transfer—for doing things like translucent objects, view-dependent displacement mapping and water rendering on the Xbox.

For the storage element, Rashid talked about the TerraServer, Microsofts research project that delivers a 3.3-terabyte online database of maps and aerial photographs of the United States. Now Microsoft is working on completing the SkyServer, which will create a worldwide telescope and link vast amounts of astronomy data in a single distributed database. Rashid called on Jim Gray, a Microsoft distinguished engineer, to demonstrate the technology. Gray showed links to the Sloan Digital Sky Server and said it is a database of 10 terabytes of pixel data and 1 terabyte of record data, including "3 billion records sitting in a SQL Server database."

Microsoft worked with researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, according to Gray. "Weve been doing a Web service using .Net, SQL Server and IIS [Microsofts Internet Information Server]; its called SkyQuery." Gray described the overall system as a "federation of Web services and makes it look like all the telescopes in the world are tied together into one great big database."

Next page: A platform for wristwatches.

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Rashid also spoke about Microsofts Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), which will first be manifested in wristwatches that will be able to deliver useful information to users, such as calendar, stock, weather, notifications and other forms of information. The idea is "we are creating a platform for small devices that runs the kind of software for PCs but putting it in the smallest devices like wristwatches," Rashid said.

In addition, Rashid showed a video on how Microsoft is working to deliver distributed wireless classrooms and Tablet PC applications.

John SanGiovanni, Microsofts technical evangelist for university relations, showed two Tablet PC applications that were well-received by the audience of developers. One, from Brown University called MathPad, is a free-form sketching tool for marrying sketches to a math engine. The second, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Magic Paper, allows users to draw objects and then the system animates them.

In his keynote presentation here Monday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said Microsoft will spend about $6.8 billion on research and development this year.

Read eWEEK.coms coverage of Bill Gates PDC keynote.

Rashid took exception to what he called an emerging "apocalyptic view" of the computing industry. "I think were really at the beginning; weve barely scratched the surface."

Microsofts research unit grew from one person, Rashid, in 1991, to more than 700 researchers today, with labs in Redmond, Wash.; San Francisco; Cambridge, England; Beijing; and Mountain View, Calif., he said.

The mission of Microsoft Research is to expand the state of the art, rapidly transfer technologies into Microsoft products and ensure Microsoft products have a future, Rashid said.

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